Notes 001. S5e versus S6e versus SP2/3e
The reason - My motivation for this comparison review is partly a personal test to see if my general thoughts as to how these three speakers perform is in fact correct. The 'feel' that I had for each speaker had developed from listening to them at different times on different systems and in different rooms so I thought I should confirm that my gut feel was in fact correct.
The guidelines - I choose to import and sell Spendor for a reason. That reason being that I feel Spendor offers a sound that I have found very rare. An easy to listen to sound that is accurate, natural, detailed etc. and above all comes very close to sounding like real music in my lounge room. Having said this, as I am not directly comparing Spendor with another brand I feel my comments are worth something and bias doesn't play a role.
I set up the three pairs in turn in the prime position at the front of our main demo area which is a renovated double garage approximately 6.5m square. Its not really square or at least it doesn't sound like a square room as there is quite a lot of 'stuff' (furniture, cartons etc) in the room. There is carpet on the floor and the walls are a rough finish brick. Acoustically the room is quite pleasant, fairly well damped and what I would regard as neutral and fairly typical of what a lot of my customers listen to music in. The speakers were well in from the sidewalls approximately 3 metres apart and about a metre off the rear wall. I listened about 3 metres from the speakers. I used the Audio Refinement CD player/integrated amp combo which punches out a healthy 50 watts of very slightly sweeter than neutral power. Bass control and speed is mediocre on this amp in my opinion, but I am comparing it in my mind with the likes of Naim which is a lot more money than the $1500 the Aud Ref would sell for.
Interconnects were my home-brew silver ones and for speaker cables I chose Audio Quest midnight on the bass and some basic Supra multi strand wire on the mid/treble. The speakers were spiked and the stands placed the bottom of the SP2/3e 330mm off the floor.
The music - I used 3 different CD's of slightly different music. Rickie Lee Jones somewhat dry sounding recording known as 'Pop Pop', Michael Franti and Spearheads deliciously recorded 'Stay Human' and one of my favourite albums, Bill Morrisseys, 'You'll never get to heaven'. I chose this music because I have been listening to it for years on different systems, each track that I chose (2 from each disc) has its little challenges and the CD's were just sitting there on the cabinet which saved me from serious thought as to what I should use and also got me out of the effort of going upstairs, where I keep most of my CD's.
SP2/3e - I have always had a soft spot for this speaker and its predecessors as being a sweet, relaxing listen with a pleasantly rich bass. My first thoughts when I got 'Bill' playing track 6 was just that, although the bass seemed a tad too rich. It was slightly wooden sounding a bit plodding even. The vocals were very nice though, typically Spendor and a total pleasure to listen to. Listening to track 12 on the same Morrissey disc, the horns were very 'pleasant' but perhaps somewhat recessed sounding and didn't quite get my heart going. The bass was sounding somewhat 'leaden' on this track too. So all very nice and warm but not terribly exciting. Lets put in RLJ and see what happens.
The first thing I noticed when listening to track 4 on 'Pop Pop' was the height of the vocal image and the general feel of instruments placed around the stage in front of me was very impressive. The vocal sounded somewhat dry but then anyone familiar with this album knows it sounds dry on almost any system and if it doesn't, watch out when you put some screeching bimbo in the CD player. The double bass actually sounded fine on this track and track 6 which I played next. Certainly a little plump and well rounded but very pleasant. Once again Rickie sounded a little dry but very easy on the ears and natural sounding.
On to Mr Franti. On track 8 of 'Stay Human' the image was once again quite palpable and sounded very 'pleasant', but perhaps a little sizzly on top and maybe a little empty sounding as if the mid was very slightly sucked out and in so doing has sucked some pace and pizazz out of the performance. A damn easy and pleasant sound to listen to though. You could just sit there and listen for hours. Track 11 on the same excellent album was enjoyable the sound was perhaps a little too relaxed and not quite 'together'.
So to sum up, it sounds like my gut feel was about right. Maybe not the speaker for speed freaks, but certainly a good choice if your room acoustics are less than perfect or you have a very aggressive sounding front end that needs balancing. These speakers I feel would come together nicely on a Naim front end (as I think most of the classic series does). If you want a relaxing 'friend' to play your music and do a half decent job of seducing you at the same time these 8” 2 ways from the old school are a great choice. Now on to something newer!
S6e - I have developed a bit of a taste for these speakers in recent times. Consensus has it that they perform well above what is typical for their price range and in turn have won speaker of the year from two different UK Hifi mags for 2004. My 'gut feel' has it that they are a big sounding speaker with a detailed and lively upper mid and top with amazingly good extension in the bass which is also quite well controlled. The mid is once again typically Spendor, uncoloured, seemingly completely lacking in hardness, boxiness and any nasty nasal sounding qualities.
So was I right? I listened to Franti first. Very similar tonal balance to the previous speaker but significantly snappier, seemingly less 'coloured' in the vocal area and even 'nicer' to listen too than the older design. On the second track it was made obvious that these speakers a very similar to the SP2/3e but everything is faster, tighter, has less 'colour' and perhaps less 'grain' and best of all is even more enjoyable to listen too. The overall balance of the sound is still on the rich side of neutral.
On to Bill Morrissey and his raspy throaty vocal has lost a bit of its earthy appeal but the slightly plodding bass on these two tracks has disappeared. The horns on track 12 have come to life. They now have the immediacy they were missing on the SP2/3e and yet still sound 'nice' and also very 'natural'.
On RLJ the S6e's are sounding very nice but perhaps there isn't quite the emotional 'grab' I was expecting. The bass is very pleasant and everything is in the right place. The imaging doesn't seem quite as spacious or as palpable as on the stand mounters.
Overall these speakers are rippers and seem to be pretty much what I thought they were. They are very well balanced in their different performance area's. No one aspect sticks out and you get the feeling that the budget was enough for there not to be any real compromises in the design. Now lets try the little S5e's
S5e - I like the way these speakers look. They're so damn cute! Possibly the smallest 'floor standers' at any price range the cabinets are exceptionally inert. If you rap your knuckles on the top of the enclosure you are more likely to cause yourself an injury than vibrate any wooden material. When the 'e' versions of the 'S' series from Spendor was launched 12 months ago, the S5e was a brand new model and immediately started to win high praise from the UK Hifi press. It also has been popular in the US with it receiving best budget product of the year in 2004 from none other than 'Stereophile magazine'. I have always liked this speaker but considered it somewhat 'dry' sounding, a bit small scale and not really my cup of tea. So was I right or not? Read on...
I put RLJ back in the player and was confronted with a similarly dry sound as before but this time Rickie seemed to be singing to me! It is very hard to describe but without expecting anything there was a definite emotional boundary being crossed by this speaker. It took a few minutes for me to realise what was happening. The first I noticed was that the track was nearly ended and I hadn't had any thoughts of maybe skipping forward and getting on with the review. I noticed the incredible tunefulness of the bass and the almost complete lack of overhang on bass notes and then realised that there is this little bit extra happening in the mid that lets the genie (in this case Rickie Lee) escape from the speaker. The imaging was also somewhat better focused than on the two previous speakers, but without the height, the SP2/3e offered.
On to Spearhead again and the vocal from Franti was smack in the middle and rock stable. The bass very quick and agile although I did note that the amp's volume control was displaced somewhat further towards number eleven than with the other two transducers.
On Mr Morrissey I came to realise that the vocal performance of the S5e is the pick of these three speakers. The earthiness mentioned earlier was back and yet the voice seemed very natural and uncoloured. Subtle inflections and vocal stylings were laid bare in a very enjoyable way. On the horn laden track 12 the S5e's won again for the most impressive sounding horns this time. The brass instruments were vibrant, real and above all a joy to listen to.
To sum up the S5e's performance, they initially sound a little small scale and they probably are. For wandering around the house and general background music the other two speakers deliver a bigger a sound, but sit yourself down after doing the housework and spin a few discs and as long as the proviso's I mention below are adhered to these are the most involving listen of the three for me. I feel they might lend themselves to neutral or slightly brighter sounding equipment and rooms.
Proviso's - In the case of the S5e, it may well have offered the most involving performance but there are a few issues to consider. Firstly these are insensitive loudspeakers. 50 watts of high quality power is needed and even then you will have the vol knob closer to the stop than you will be used to. The outright volume available is satisfactory when they are used in a medium sized room or smaller but if you like it loud you will need to look into the other two speakers on offer here. The S5e is also very realistic in its bass output and doesn't seemingly couple with the rooms boundaries to exaggerate the bass like other speakers. This is almost certainly a good thing and perhaps one of the reasons the bass is so lively, but if you like a full, “rich” sound you will be happier with the other two choices. All this is perhaps making the '5' sound like its a thin scratchy sounding thing! Not in the slightest, but it is a smallish loudspeaker and sounds a bit like it. Its emotionally enthralling performance will side track you from these issues though.
Both the SP2/3e and the S6e offer up a bigger, lusher sound and initially seem more impressive and probably are if you feel you need to turn it up a bit or appreciate a fuller bass. Once again I wouldn't expect huge output in a room much bigger than my 40m2.
Sum up - Mmm, If I had to choose! Well if I did have to choose I would probably take the S6e as it is the best all rounder. It gives me the size of sound I like that adds a touch of realism to rock and big orchestra's that a small speaker like the S5e can't quite give. It gives enough deep bass that it would be alright without a sub in any kind of sensible surround sound system as well. It gets so many things right and is an absolute pleasure to listen too.
The S5e is the more communicative speaker though and if I just listened to music at medium volumes in a smallish room I would have very little trouble choosing it as many very happy customers of ours have.
The SP2/3e has probably had its day to some degree. So new materials, design idea's and fashionable looking boxes can offer improvements over the old stand mount originals! If you are looking for a slightly more emotional vocal performance than the S6e, with reasonable sensitivity and a quite musical, lush and really a slightly fat bass this is your loudspeaker.
So I suppose my gut feel about each speaker was correct, but I missed one very important point in relation to the S5e. It really offers a large taste of the communicative midrange qualities of the bigger models like the SP100.
They are of course all very good and are all very enjoyable to listen to in that very Spendor kind of way. What is surprising is just how different they are while still offering the fatigue free performance that Spendor have become famous for. The “Spendor Magic”.